Father Gore’s Favourite 50+ Films Directed by Women

In celebration of International Women’s Day and also Women’s History Month, here’s a list of 50+ films directed by women that are downright spectacular. Spanning the genres from drama to horror to science fiction there’s something for everyone on this list.
We need more female artistry. Not only in independent cinema but in the system of filmmaking as a whole. These are just a fraction of the amazing stories women have brought to the medium.


Meshes of the Afternoon1) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
An experimental short film from the first half of the 20th century co-directed by a married couple, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. This one’s hard to explain. For a 14-minute flick this one requires multiple viewings. Very innovative, particularly for the ’40s, but honestly it’s generally an impressive short, even by today’s standards. A great surreal film.

The Night Porter2) The Night Porter (1974)
Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani, this 1974 drama is one part eroticism, three parts disturbing psychological torture. Some consider this an exploitation film; I don’t agree. While it has erotic elements, and of course its heavy dose of Nazism, The Night Porter is about the lingering effects of the past on the present, how evil of a certain magnitude won’t ever wash away, and more. Sure, it’s a shocker of a movie on many levels. But trust me, Charlotte Rampling’s performance, Cavani’s direction, the compelling and disturbing story, they all add up to something perfect.

Near Dark3) Near Dark (1987)
Maybe Kathryn Bigelow’s directed ‘better’ films than this one, I don’t know. I’m not the taste maker. However, this vampire flick of hers is one of the horror genre’s greatest hits. And for good reason. Vampire stories are a dime a dozen, more so when you fast forward to today. Bigelow doesn’t just populate the cast with the likes of the late, great Bill Paxton and genre hero Lance Henriksen, she infuses her horror with a bit of Western sensibility and, yes, realism (the vamps’ vehicle kitted out to block the sun is simple though classic). More than that she provides an examination of what family means in different senses through her depiction of a roaming gang of bloodsucking criminals who cross paths with a sweet, lovestruck country boy.

Boys Don't Cry4) Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Brandon Teena’s story is an American tragedy, a wound that still hasn’t closed in 2017 when Republicans are, almost more than ever, intent on making it harder for trans men and women to live their lives.
Directed and co-written by Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry tells the tale of Teena (Hilary Swank) in unflinching detail about the young woman formerly known as Teena Brandon living her life as a boy named Brandon. Most of the movie is dedicated to the relationship he has with a woman named Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). But Peirce never shies away from the brutal realities of what happened to Brandon after mutual friend John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) discovers his secret. This isn’t a film I can watch often, though this doesn’t diminish its importance. You need to see this film, especially if you know anyone trans and want to understand the fear many men and women live in to this day because of violent, often murderous bigots.

Ravenous5) Ravenous (1999)
There’s a lot to enjoy about Antonia Bird’s film. You could see it as a historical horror, even a transgressive satire at times. You can never say it’s boring.
Ravenous takes on the concept of manifest destiny, when cannibalism grips a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevadas during the mid-19th century. What Bird does best is blend all the elements – Western, horror, satire, action and adventure – into an atmospheric tale that chills and also takes you on an intensely thrilling ride.
Two big welcome additions are the sprawling locations, plus one of the most unique scores you’re ever likely to hear courtesy of Blur’s Damon Albarn and composer Michael Nyman.

Werckmeister Harmonies6) Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Co-directed by husband-wife team Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, this is one of post-2000’s most unique dramas. Don’t want to say too much. What I will note is that Tarr and Hranitzky offer up excellent black-and-white visuals, while navigating a story of decay in post-World War II Eastern Europe. Plenty of ways to interpret, many ways to enjoy. Visually this is great, and it’s shot in just under 40 single takes, giving it a lyrical quality.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing7) Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)
Jill Sprecher’s 2001 ensemble drama feels, in terms of story, like a film we could’ve seen from Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson. There are a number of themes at play, and for a mostly serious drama a proper dose of appropriate comedy. It’s the case who bring the A+ work alongside Sprecher and her directorial choices. Roger Ebert fittingly described the story as philosophy unfolding through the regular events of regular peoples lives; nobody can describe it better.

Trouble Every Day8) Trouble Every Day (2001)
Get used to Claire Denis, she pops up on this list a few times and she’s one of the world’s best filmmakers; female or not. She explores the darkness of humanity, at every end of the spectrum. Naturally, she expresses the feminine side of life very well, but Denis understands human beings well as a whole.
Trouble Every Day is, on the surface, a story about sexual cannibalism. It looks and acts as a horror film. Within that are metaphors for and about love, how we tear one another apart for the sake of emotional satisfaction, lust, so on. Aided by the top notch performances of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, Denis gets to the bloody, beating heart of love in an uncomfortable though intriguing way.

Monster9) Monster (2003)
In the study of abused women throughout America, a conflicted and devastating case is that of Aileen Wuornos. In this 2003 Patty Jenkins film Charlize Theron figuratively and physically embodies the executed woman, giving tender life to a marginalised, victimised soul whose trajectory in life was set in blood long before she ever made it to Florida. Lesser director-writers would’ve settled for a sensational horror bordering on hack-and-slash to tell this grotesque true story. Instead of that, Jenkins offers something more pensive, more personal, more focused on character and motivation than the crimes themselves.

The Woodsman10) The Woodsman (2004)
Adapted from a play of the same name, Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman is an uncomfortable piece of cinema. I have no empathy or sympathy for paedophiles or those attracted to underage teens. But, like so many great works, this story challenges the limits of acceptance and to what we the viewer are willing to relate. I won’t say any more. Go into this without knowing much and it may surprise you.
The scene from the image above is perhaps the most telling, in regards to how the audience is asked to try and understand Kevin Bacon’s character, whose past transgressions include molesting a young girl. When Walter (Bacon) steps past the boundaries of normal conversation his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) is no longer empathetic, he’s disgusted and almost physically assaults Walter. There are different interpretations of this moment, mostly it illustrates the fine line between understanding and contempt when it comes to these types of issues.

Deliver Us from Evil11) Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
This is a difficult documentary, so I advise anyone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse, specifically at the hands of a priest, maybe tread lightly with this one. Not only are there a few explicit descriptions of the abuse perpetrated by the monstrous Father Oliver O’Grady, we also spend significant time listening to the destruction he wrought upon his victims and their families. Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg (I could’ve put any of her films on here honestly) cuts to the core with an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to protect the most vulnerable in their care, as seen through the lens of O’Grady and his crimes.
Because make no mistake, this is a microcosm of the larger problem endemic to Catholicism. Thankfully Berg brings the issue to light with an expert documentary which leaves no stone unturned.

Red Road12) Red Road (2006)
I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling. Andrea Arnold is an English treasure. Not only is her directing and writing on point in this mysterious little drama, Kate Dickie pulls out a mesmerising, fearless performance as lead character Jackie Morrison, a CCTV operator on the Red Road Flats whose job allows her a front row seat to locating the man who irreparably altered her life.
Don’t read anything else. Go, watch. Experience this moody film for what it’s worth, and let the story sink into your bones.

In a Better World13) In a Better World (2010)
Susanne Bier covers a lot of ground with this 2010 dramatic thriller. From a small Danish town to an African refugee camp, Bier dissects the meaning and devastation of violent conflict, the constructions of masculinity, and more. The plot’s wonderfully divided between the two separate lives of one man, home in Denmark and away in Africa, as he struggles to understand the nature of violence while holding onto the man he is inside. Although the movie is great to look at and Bier’s directing is solid, it’s the story which ultimately captives, keeping you glued until the final moments determining whether the film is a tragedy after all.

Lore14) Lore (2012)
No shortage of WWII and Nazi-related films out there, though some are far better than others. At the top of the heap is Lore, based on one of the novellas from Rachel Seiffert’s book The Dark Room. Directed and co-written by Cate Shortland, the story is an uncompromising view of life nearing the end of Nazi rule, as we see the perspective of a young woman raised by Nazis and her aftermath when Allied Forces move in on their homes.
There’s so much in the film’s 109 minutes to absorb. Watching young Lore deal with the sudden disappearance of her parents in a time of intense crisis gets to me. Because she’s been raised by fascist parents to take part in a frighteningly fascist society, not the typical lead character we follow in WWII or post-WWII movies. But Shortland draws our attention to the right places, and Lore’s journey evolves into something far more compassionate than you’ll ever anticipate in the beginning.
One of the most telling moments is when Lore threatens her little brother, saying that the Americans have prisons where young people are tortured, horrible places; the irony as she subscribes to the Nazi ideology is staggering, showing us just how indoctrinated she’s become living in the world of adults ruling Germany with an iron fist.

The Pervert's Guide to Ideology15) The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012)
Director Sophie Fiennes casts her lens upon philosophical cokehead Slavoj Žižek, who I’m half a fan of when he’s not spouting absolute madness and misguided wisdom. What I love is that Fiennes captures Žižek in his own world, in a sense. As he rants, often to great effect (his movie wisdom re: ideology is fairly spot on), she takes us into that world, and adorns each frame with the influence of the films Žižek discusses at length. My favourite section is where he discusses the John Carpenter classic ahead of its time, They Live, and in particular his dissection of the fight scene, which in itself is a perfect rendition of the struggle to accept ideology.

Ratcatcher 16) Ratcatcher (1999)
Certain filmmakers capture the essence of the middle to lower classes with absolute precision. One such director is Lynne Ramsay. Her 1999 drama Ratcatcher depicts 1970s Glasgow in all its visual squalor, as we infiltrate the poor housing districts populated by characters hoping for better, for more. From the striking binmen and all the garbage piling up outside, to the just as neglected inner lives of those inside the flats, Ramsay finds the beauty and the tenderness amongst all the trash.
There are two gorgeous, memorable sequences above all. One of those is a dose of magic realism you might not expect to see. When it comes, you’ll know. And you’ll never forget.

Away from Her17) Away from Her (2006)
The subject of Alzheimer’s Disease is a touchy one, like any disease that decimates a human being, physically or mentally. Directed and written by Sarah Polley, Away from Her is based on a short story called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. It’s a film which will rock you. Both performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are the stuff of dreams.
Polley does a stellar job in her dual role as writer and director. Not only is her work quality, the movie is directed by a woman, a Canadian, based on a Canadian writer’s story, filmed in Canada. Pinsent is even from my small hometown on the far East Coast of Canada, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. What’s not to love?

The Virgin Suicides18) The Virgin Suicides (1999)
You can argue that Sofia Coppola has only gotten better as a director, so that would mean her debut feature isn’t necessarily going to be her best. But while I agree she’s matured since, The Virgin Suicides is my vote for her best. It’s a great film in terms of story, directing. It’s also an important one.
Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, it explores the utter pain of becoming a woman through eyes of young boys/men watching from a distance. At first that seems like a male perspective, and to an extent it is, when it helps capture the mysteriousness and elusive nature of femininity from all angles. Coppola was the perfect filmmaker to tackle this story, doing so with atmosphere and a deft hand for storytelling.

But I'm a Cheerleader19) But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
When I was young I saw this on Showcase. Being 15 and stupid at the time I was like “Awesome there’s lesbians” and just enjoyed seeing a couple girls kiss each other. In my maturity, Jamie Babbit’s movie became a clever satire about the construction of gender roles, centred on a 17-year-old girl struggling with her sexuality. This is where I first really fell in love with the acting of Clea DuVall and Natasha Lyonne. Above all else, Babbit directs this with vision. Regardless of what critics said at the time she does wonderful things with the look and feel of her film, pushing its themes visually going against heteronormativity and the socially constructed way our society views being a woman.

The Selfish Giant20) The Selfish Giant (2013)
Clio Barnard directs and writes this modern fable about greed and guilt, loosely inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name. Apart from the fine acting from the young lads central to the story, Barnard shows us a raw portrait of those on the margins. At times tender, The Selfish Giant gives us a look at characters recognisable to those who grew up in little places, where any feasible way to make money was a good way to make money. If you’ve a heart at all this movie will shake you, though in an eye-opening sense.

Pet Sematary21) Pet Sematary (1989)
Not sure how everyone else feels. For me, both the novel and the film Pet Sematary got under my skin. I mean, the mom’s sister Zelda? Haunts me to this day, no joke. Terrifying.
For any of those idiot men out there who have a shit opinion about women in horror, check out Mary Lambert here. Not only is this one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations on film, Lambert generally does nice work in the horror genre with this late ’80s classic.
Gruesome, eerie, intense, darkly comic; this one’s got it all!

Titus22) Titus (1999)
Despite recently discovering Steve Bannon co-exec produced this movie, and the fact it’s based on one of Shakespeare’s more obscure and ridiculously violent plays, it’s still a fantastic slice of cinema directed by Julie Taymor. Boasting a fantastically epic cast, Titus is a visionary adaptation of Shakespeare up there with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Colourful, savage, metafictional, flamboyant, purposely anachronistic – Taymor isn’t afraid to be different, to be her own director. She is fascinating, and this movie is full of wonders. Fuck what anyone else tells you.

Harlan County USA23) Harlan County, USA (1976)
I don’t need to tell anyone about the spectacular work of Barbara Kopple, from her documentaries to her directing on episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street to one of my favourite series’ of all-time Oz.
This documentary is raw and powerful. A look at a miners strike in Kentucky presents the class divide between Americans more than a hundred lectures and articles by people who think they know it all. Necessary viewing for any wannabe documentary filmmaker, and for anyone serious about understanding classism in American society.

Rush24) Rush (1991)
Lili Fini Zanuck’s only feature film is a top notch crime drama that goes undercover with two detectives and gets lost in the drugs. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric, Rush is one of my most favourite undercover cop dramas out there. This is another movie you want to go into without knowing much. Just that Zanuck directs the hell out of it, taking us on a ride with Leigh and Patric that’s full of adrenaline and suspenseful dramatics.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night25) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Ana Lily Amirpour has emerged as one of the more bold genre directors in the past decade, with this film and her newest, The Bad Batch. She’s got an eye for black-and-white. Moreover, she blends genres like nobody’s business!
I can’t properly describe the film without giving too much away. It’s a vampire film. It’s Iranian. It’s almost fantastical in nature, dystopian in a way existing in a place that’s otherworldly.

American Psycho26) American Psycho (2000)
Bret Easton Ellis gave us one hell of a novel when this was originally released. A wildly transgressive piece of literature. It was hard to imagine anyone translating that totally onto the screen. But, where there is doubt there is Mary Harron!
All of Ellis’ dark, satirical comedy comes out, as does the brutality and the depraved nature of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale in fine form). She really gets the book, or at least how I interpreted the book. And you can argue whether it’s all real, that’s up to interpretation; regardless of authorial intent. Point is, this is a great horror in many ways, not least of which is the fact Harron does spectacular work as director bringing Ellis and his madness to the film properly.

Wayne's World27) Wayne’s World (1992)
For years I had no idea this comedy classic starring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey was directed by a woman. Penelope Spheeris gives life outside SNL to Wayne and Garth, as the meatheaded young party animals with their own cable access television show. One of my favourite comedies. When I did find out Spheeris was behind the movie, only made it better to understand, still as a teenager then, that a woman can party on as good as any dude. Something I should’ve known sooner.

Honeymoon28) Honeymoon (2014)
I don’t know what the consensus on this flick is, but I love Leigh Janiak’s allegory about the concept of marriage, and what it is to truly know somebody, inside out. Honeymoon is like a metaphor wrapped in body horror sci-fi, underneath an intense, claustrophobic drama. Lots of good atmosphere. When the horror comes, it arrives in spades. The acting from Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway is out of this world, which helps in such a closed environment; their paranoia, the fear is suffocating as they spend much of their time in a single space. Wonderful horror cinema, Janiak knows how to get at the soul.

Sleeping Beauty29) Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Part her own fiction, partly based on a couple novels, Julia Leigh spins a strange tale of a young woman who participates in various different occupations to make money. Some of which includes doing medical experiments, even working in a high end escort house where she’s drugged to sleep next to paying male customers. Equal parts creepy and symbolic, Sleeping Beauty is, like it or not, unforgettable.

The Babadook30) The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent rocked a lot of us when she released this nightmarish psychological horror into the filmosphere. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll do my best not to spoil.
All I’ll say is this – you can interpret the film however you want, but either way it’s filled with frightening imagery reminiscent of German Expressionism, and can work on the level of a metaphor for how we deal with grief in the wake of tragedy.

Winter's Bone31) Winter’s Bone (2010)
I think Jennifer Lawrence is a bit of a knucklehead. As an actress, she is really great. Most of the time. In 2010’s Winter’s Bone, she plays a resilient young Ozarks girl left to fend for herself and her two young siblings after her deadbeat, drug addict father goes missing. Under the thumb of a ruthless community and her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in one of his best roles), she’s left with not many choices. Just like so many in the real world like her are left destitute, in every way you can think. The directing from Debra Granik is good stuff, from the picturesque locations to the shabby little backwoods town where the plot plays out she knows how to push us into a world that not everybody understands.

Persepolis32) Persepolis (2007)
I read this graphic novel in a university course a couple years ago. It struck a chord, seeing a perspective that I don’t know too well. Marjane Satrapi adapted her own novel into this fantastic animated feature, which helps hugely – rather than put this into live action, she sticks with the cartoon format, and that holds power. Just like Maus and its Jewish mice, Persepolis helps us confront hard truths and ideas about the Islamic Revolution, what it was like in Iran before, after; it does this by being presented in cartoon, automatically pumping up sympathy, even if unknowing in the audience. No matter what, Satrapi keeps the essence of her graphic novel autobiography and shows that she’s as skilled a director as she is an author.

Amer33) Amer (2009)
Hélène Cattet and partner Bruno Forzani direct this visually stunning tale of the development of a young girl into a woman, defined by three moments in her life. Like a psychosexual nightmare crossed with an expertly paced, mysterious Giallo sensibility, Amer plays less like a film, more as an experience. Honestly, I know that’s something that you might expect a pretentious writer to say, and maybe I am. But I do know that you won’t see many movies quite like this, a unique, one of a kind piece of horror cinema.

XX34) XX (2017)
What happens when a bunch of women come together to give us an anthology horror film? We get some fresh, unnerving new perspectives, such as St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, for instance. These four shorts are each impressive in their own right, though I’d have to say “The Box” (based on a Jack Ketchum story) is likely my favourite. Still hard to choose when all of them are chilling. Some are darkly comic, others outright horrifying. In an anthology, especially if there are more than a handful of segments, you’ll often see a few really weak links in the bunch. XX offers up four thrilling short films that you’ll be thinking about for days.
Kudos to these women, I hope they all continue to scare the shit out of us in the future! Horror needn’t be a boys club. I’d much prefer the feminine perspective pump out more genre work, and I feel this movie only helps the case for that.

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things35) The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)
I love Asia Argento. She’s fascinating. And one of her few feature films as director, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, falls on its viewer like a hammer.
Without spoiling, this is the tragic tale of a mother who’s not fit to be a mother dragging her little boy through one messy life situation after another. This isn’t a comedy. It is outright brutal, in what it shows and what it opts not to show, too. Starring Argento and the Sprouse brothers before bigger fame, we also see appearances from the likes of Marilyn Manson, Kip Pardue, Jeremy Renner, Peter Fonda, Ben Foster, Michael Pitt, and Jeremy Sisto. The cast is varied, all of them giving their best efforts in the various sleazeball roles they play.
Be prepared – this film is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t a horror, it’s a drama. One that will grate on your nerves and wear down your psyche. However, it’s a great anti-thesis to all the romanticised versions of down-and-out families we see so often, proving that, as it says in the Bible: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Innocence36) Innocence (2004)
Lucile Hadžihalilović has two films on this list, because she’s a mesmerising talent behind the camera. Her directing is confident, even as the stories she tells fall into a space not quite of this world yet still a part of the human order of things. I know, that’s mystifying in itself. But trust me, Hadžihalilović is unlike any other.
Innocence is a film about young girls at a secluded boarding school, where new students are brought in lying within coffins, and there they being the education which takes them from girls into womanhood. You could take this and Hadžihalilović’s Evolution, also on the list, and use them as companion pieces exploring male v. female gender. This film is inexplicable until you see it. A visual feast. Furthermore, it’s a disturbing work of art.

Dans Ma Peau37) Dans Ma Peau (2002)
I won’t say much, other than a trigger warning for those who have issues with self-harm/mutilation: this is a doozy!
For everyone else, this film acts as an exploration of how we relate to our own bodies. Director Marina de Van goes into shocking detail, following a woman who develops a nasty habit after suffering a rough injury. This prompts a descent into body horror, as the viewer must come to terms with this woman and her increasingly masochistic behaviour.

Jesus Camp38) Jesus Camp (2006)
I was raised Roman Catholic, though when I hit 12 my parents gave me the choice on my own whether to go to church. I gave up, never looked back. As a grown man, I’ve decided I’m not without faith, I just don’t believe in God, organised religion, all that. I simply have faith in humanity.
When you watch Jesus Camp, you’ll see how humanity is warped. The kids in this documentary have been so viciously brainwashed that it’s abuse, to my mind. Watching some of the adults egging these kids on into realms of thought they can’t possibly understand is frightening, as well as sad and frustrating and a whole bunch of other emotions tied up together. Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing direct this documentary together, and they expose a sinister underbelly to what many used to think was innocuous summer camp-type activities.

Goodnight Mommy39) Goodnight Mommy (2015)
When two twins see their mother come back home after surgery, her face wrapped in bandages, they start to wonder: is it really their mommy under all that gauze?
Goodnight Mommy is a whopper of a film. A psychothriller we don’t often see. Sure, maybe you’ll ‘guess the twist’ early on. I didn’t. Even if I did, co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala weave us through the story in a way that still demands respect, and fear. Not only that, the directing offers up some stellar visuals, as the story messes with our mind right to the finish.

The Turin Horse40) The Turin Horse (2011)
Another film from Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky. This time, they take on the tale of Friedrich Nietzsche, albeit in an adjacent form. When Nietzsche lost his mind, supposedly it was precipitated by him watching a horse being flogged in the street, after which he crumbled mentally. Tarr and Hranitzky don’t follow the great philosopher. Instead, they show us what happens next to the horse. We go back to the horse’s home, we see the lives of his owner and the owner’s daughter.
This isn’t for everyone. Most definitely a philosophical film, for those with an interest in philosophy. Within the seemingly monotonous perspective of the film there are questions about life, waiting to confuse and titillate.

Bastards41) Les salauds (2013)
Oh, Claire Denis; I worship at thine altar.
What a filmmaker. She’s consistently interesting, even if you don’t particularly dig each of her films. She is always asking questions about the hardest aspects of life – love, loss, pain, pride; everything.
Les salauds (English title: Bastards) is a disturbing film, on several levels. Ultimately, this chalks up to a tragedy of errors, in the deepest, most painful sense possible. The titular bastards are all around, though more often than not they’re close to us than we think. Denis explores this idea well, with Vincent Lindon at the centre of the story giving another great performance as usual.

We Need to Talk About Kevin42) We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Another magnificent human being, Lynne Ramsay, reappears on the list.
And for good reason. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a hugely important movie, based on the book of the same name written only a few years after the Columbine massacre. Tilda Swinton takes on the role of Kevin’s mother, facing the hardship of having to live on in a world where her son has committed horrible atrocities. She takes the punishment from the locals, the news, so on. And while we’re tempted to feel sorry for her, the flashbacks we experience alongside her offer a different perspective. She certainly isn’t to blame for the horror of Kevin as a young adult. At the same time, it’s hard not to see the effect an unloving mother can have on a child’s development. In so many ways this is a difficult to swallow story. In so many other ways, it’s one of the most important films since 2000.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears43) The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
From the directors of Amer, this is another eerie tale. I won’t say anything further, except expect more of the same (though different) visuals and in turn visual storytelling rather than a ton of expository dialogue. This is a weird, wonderful slice of Giallo-inspired cinema you won’t want to miss.

Evolution44) Évolution (2015)
Watch this Lucile Hadžihalilović picture after you’ve seen her other film Innocence. They’re each innovative looks at gender. This one turns its gaze onto the development of young boys, albeit in a dystopian, sci-fi-ish way that isn’t always easy to grasp. Despite that the film is hard to ignore. Like a bit of body horror, fantasy, and dystopian drama in one big, weird bowl.

The Hitch-Hiker45) The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Ida Lupino was directing movies at a time when it wasn’t exactly common for women to be helming big pictures. But it’s stuff like 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker that exemplifies exactly why. In this simple story of two men picking up a dangerous man on the side of the road, Lupino does more than a couple films combined. I don’t want to spoil the goods, because she truly makes a suspenseful piece of work out of a simplistic premise. The acting is great, and the cinematography will keep you cooped up in close quarters with the titular hitchhiker on the edge of madness with his unwilling passengers, from start to finish.

She's Lost Control46) She’s Lost Control (2014)
Anja Marquardt’s She’s Lost Control is a raw drama that looks at the life of a sexual surrogate. She’s forever altered when one client with whom she works becomes erratic in his behaviour, committing a brutal act that sees her question a job she never did before and also deal with the misunderstood conceptions about her job from the people around her. Definitely a slow burning drama, but filled with enough nuanced acting that you’ll forget any slower pacing. Brooke Bloom’s central performance is better than great, she genuinely falls into the skin of her character Ronah. And when you see those last frames, you’ll feel like you’re right there in her skin, as well. Like it or not.

The Adversary47) The Adversary (2002)
When a man’s family turns up dead, his life for the past couple decades unravels and it’s discovered he’s not who he’s pretended to be all along. Daniel Auteuil turns in a staggeringly powerful performance in the lead role. It’s the way director and co-writer Nicole Garcia shows us the story that offers the film’s most intriguing aspect. Going from the man’s present to the past, and everything in between, Garcia shows us where he is, how he got there, and all the pain of everyone involved. At times a straightforward drama, The Adversary surprises with the manner in which its revelations open up for the viewer.

The Blue Light48) The Blue Light (1932)
Leni Riefenstahl didn’t just make an awful piece of Nazi propaganda. She also made and starred in The Blue Light, a hypnotising fantasy about a woman suspected of being a witch, who’s the only person in her village that can climb a nearby mountain; at the top is a strange blue light that shines under the moon. Young men die trying to follow the woman. Eventually, tragedy strikes when she entrusts the secret of the mountain and its blue light to a man who betrays her.
There’s a lot to enjoy, from cinematography to the sweeping score to the dreamy pacing and equally dreamy imagery. I only saw this recently, seeking it out before Women’s History Month specifically. And I wasn’t disappointed. Its length is perfect to match the pacing Riefenstahl attains, slowly indoctrinating us into this mysterious village at the foot of the mountain. A fantastic work of early 20th century cinema!

Pariah49) Pariah (2011)
I loved Moonlight. But 5 years before it dropped on us like a beautiful black bomb, Dee Rees brought us a story of a young African-American girl discovering and exploring her lesbianism while navigating family and friendship in Brooklyn.
While you can admire it for the gorgeously captured images of beautiful, young black women frequenting nightclubs, walking the streets of their neighbourhood, moving through the familiar spaces of their lives brought out in exuberant detail, Pariah is a tender if not tough look at this girl and her struggle. There are moments of such beauty you might cry.
And whereas Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner of 2016 ended on a hopeful, heartwarming note, Rees opts to end with a beat depicting the all too common fight of young gay/lesbian men and women out there just trying to be themselves.

Vanishing Waves50) Vanishing Waves (2013)
This film by director and co-writer Kristina Buozyte is a unique work of science fiction, especially if we consider the sci-fi that’s come out since 2000. It’s a very psychological piece. Above all, the visuals are to die for! What begins as nebulous, evasive story slowly morphs into something tangible as time progresses. At the beginning, you won’t know what to think. Then as you let Buozyte sink her images into you and they burrow under your skin, Vanishing Waves takes form right before your eyes. Not for everyone, but certainly a great female-directed film in a male dominated industry, where directors like Buozyte are pushing the envelope and plenty of men are directing heaps of shitty sci-fi.

The House is Black51) The House is Black (1963)
Watch this. Now. A short documentary, though no less important than one that’ll run for two-and-a-half hours. In twenty minutes you’ll experience a ton of emotions. Director Forugh Farrokhzad examines what it is to be ‘ugly’ and pits that against religion. Trust me, you won’t regret watching this one. The images are stark and they’re not always easy to watch. But all of the best documentaries touch a nerve, which Farrokhzad does with hers so effortlessly.

Vagabond52) Vagabond (1985)
Starting with the death of a young woman frozen in a field, Agnès Varda takes us back through her life leading up to where and when she’s found. This is like a snapshot of real life, in the sense that we often see these types of deaths, ones we deem sad and unfortunate, and we know nothing of this person’s life. While Varda’s eponymous vagabond isn’t a bad person, nor does she deserve a tragic death such as this, we basically watch the bittersweet flavour of her existence. And that perhaps dying in a field, free and in the open is what this vagabond wanted. Perhaps there’s more romance in her life and death than we suspect at the start. Or maybe not. The way Varda doesn’t show us everything, sometimes leaving out significant pieces for the audience to put together in a puzzle, how we get cinema verite moments of people talking into the camera about the young woman, there’s a very genuine feel of reality. We’re left to decide exactly what this woman’s life means, if anything, and how her death reflects the life she lived.

White Material53) White Material (2009)
Claire Denis, once more. An auteur.
White Material is a ferocious film, full of power. Isabelle Huppert, like always, wows in her central performance as a French coffee farmer struggling in an African country as a civil war erupts. What we see is less a political view into things as it is a personal, smaller scale look at child soldiers and what they’re made to do, as well as how the people of a country react to the violence of war in its many brutal forms. There are difficult moments throughout. In her usual awesome form, Denis often affects us more by what she DOESN’T show and merely suggests, rather than what she chooses to show. In the end, this all hinges on Huppert at the centre, a woman faced with losing everything she has in every way but refuses to just give in. Another one of her stories that’s heavy in impact, as if you’d expect any less.

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Disturbing Horror for Halloween Season

There are tons and tons of disturbing horror movies out there. I’ve seen plenty of them, but the titles on this list are some of my favourites. Not saying these are the most extreme, the most hardcore, I’m not touting these as the most disturbing horror movies you can watch. Simply, I think these are a good dose of movies running the gamut from thematically disturbing to graphically disturbing, to downright weird.
Without further rambling, here are my picks for a bit of wild horror to throw on this Halloween season, if October really has you feeling like you need to test your limits on film.
Enjoy…?


Possession (1981)
ecfslbxawaseotypjpcl3ibd2prFor my full review and discussion, click here.

The title says it all.
This is probably the strangest erotic horror-thriller you could ever imagine. Even saying erotic horror seems strange, but god damn if this is not full of both horrific and at times erotic imagery.
You could say this is a character study of two people in a relationship and what the ideas of possession mean for both involved.
To say any more would be to truly give things away. Honestly, go in knowing only a very basic plot – a couple falls apart as the wife seems to be having an extra marital affair, which proves to be something far stranger. Just know that when the horror hits you it is going to smash your face into bits, it may even rock you sexually in the worst kind of way imaginable.

Inside (2007)/ Trouble Every Day (2001)
inside-1 You can be guaranteed that if Beatrice Dalle is in it, I’ll watch it! So here is an excellent Dalle double feature which you can indulge on Halloween to scare the wits out of you.
First up is the 2007 home invasion horror-thriller Inside, directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo who also directed 2011’s Livid which was on another list I did for this October. This movie is just all out horror and highly female-centric: on Christmas Eve, a pregnant woman alone at home is attacked by a mysterious woman intent on getting inside the house, as well as inside that belly. If you’re pregnant, you may want to avoid this movie honestly, or if you’re super sensitive. Because this horror escalates, from a mild creep to a roaring scare. Be prepared. Also, this whole movie’s drenched in blood and gory bits. Excellently disturbing stuff!
Trouble-Every-Day_1 Second comes auteur director Claire Denis’ version of the cannibal film, Trouble Every Day. Starring Vincent Gallo and Beatrice Dalle, this is the story of sexual cannibalism in humans, as opposed to insects; starting with a husband and wife travelling to Paris for their honeymoon, the husband investigating a strange clinic, and ending with bloody horror. Hard to explain any of the ins and outs, I’d rather not ruin it any more than I already have with this explanation. Either way, Denis is a master filmmaker, someone of whom I’m a huge, huge fan, and this is a really gripping, unsettling movie out of her works. You won’t be sorry. This is disturbing, but it does have a great script held up by a couple solid actors like Gallo and Dalle in particular on whose shoulders the movie ultimately rests.
This is a solid double feature, which really shows off Beatrice Dalle’s talents. Also, it touches on two pretty touchy elements of human nature: pregnancy and sexuality.

The Devils (1971)
THE DEVILS - American Poster 1For a full review, click here.

Maybe this might not be totally considered horror. Honestly, though, if you don’t find Ken Russell’s The Devils horrific I’m not sure how your brain operates.
Both Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave give terrific, agonizing performances in their own right; Redgrave particularly gives a transcendent performance full of religious fervour and Satanic mania.
If you’re going to see this, you need to be able to see it uncut, in its entirety, as even while the most attainable version out there is pretty wild, the uncut version of this Russell masterpiece is unbridled psychosexual horror in its finest.
Just to give you a taste: there’s a scene known as “The Rape of the Christ”. Craziest part is that this whole film, the story and its plot, is partly based on a real story. Need a nice dose of disturbing religious horror? You found it in Russell.

Three… Extremes (2004)
50aee982-8647-40fa-9644-e45f71fc4f42-3_Extremes With three short films in one, this entire anthology only runs around 118 minutes, so you’ve got a great triple feature for the price of one!
Starting off with Dumplings, from Fruit Chan, the Asian horror gets churning with the story of an ageless woman who makes her signature dumplings for other women attempting to capture the elusive fountain of youth and its secrets. Hint: there’s something in the dumplings that ought not be there.
Cut by director Chan-wook Park is the tale of, funny enough, a film director and someone with a grudge. With a trap-like setup surpassing the interest factor of anything Saw ever had to offer, this short is sadistic and incredibly intriguing.
Finally, the short titled Box comes via notorious (and awesome) Japanese director Takashi Miike. I’d like to say a little, but would rather not spoil anything. Let’s just say it involves two sisters who were contortionists, they belonged to a carnival of sorts doing a trick involving a box, and then something bad happened at the carnival. No more, or you’ll know too much! Go in knowing only this: Miike is disturbing, if you’ve not seen his other work you should maybe get ready for a tense ride. Though, each of these shorts has their own test, I find something unsettling about Miike’s approach to stories, like he knows something the rest of us don’t.
Great watch if you don’t mind subtitles. It’s a really disturbing film all over, but Dumplings and Box particularly have always stuck in my mind.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)/ Tony (2009)

For my full review of Tony, click here.
For a full review of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, click here.
1990-henry-portrait-of-a-serial-killer-poster1 You’ll always hear about John McNaughton’s 1986 shocker when realistic horror is being discussed – raw and savage, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of the most unflinching portrayals of serial killers on film. With a central performance rivalling some of the best in horror, Michael Rooker embodies the loose, fictionalization of real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas; also included is the recently deceased and wonderful Tom Towles as another loose fictional version of Lucas’ actual partner for a time, Ottis Toole. The very brutal and simplistic style McNaughton uses only serves to unsettle the viewer with such an up close and personal view of the inside of a serial killer’s mind and world.
poster23 years down the road, after the release of the McNaughton cult classic, filmmaker Gerard Johnson gives us Tony – another film loosely based on a real killer (this time it’s British murderer Dennis Nilsen the Kindly Killer), this 2009 dramatic horror follows the titular character, Tony: on the spectrum, he is quiet, shy, lonely, disaffected and disassociated. However, at home, Tony cuts up the bodies of those he kills, draining their blood down the drains and the toilet, putting body parts and organs into plastic bags which he later casually dumps into the Thames. The reason Tony is so chilling, and why it’s a great double feature with McNaughton’s film, is because the movie takes us right behind the eyes of the central character – the at times sympathetic yet horrible killer – and never once do we make our way out of his perspective. At certain moments, the film is a slow burning character study; at others there’s an ominous sense of terror. Either way, you’ll be surprised as the film goes on just how depraved this quiet man in his council flat is deep down underneath his unassuming exterior.
Put these two films on – one American, one British – you’ll get an interesting look at the two sides of one coin. Dive into the darkness of the murderous mind!

The Last House on the Left (1972)
the-last-house-on-the-leftFor a full review, click here.

With the lofty goal of making a horror-thriller version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, itself based on a medieval Swedish ballad, Wes Craven (R.I.P) – at the time a self-professed young and angry man – brought a new style of horror to the screen. There were certainly disturbing movies before 1972, however, Craven effectively brought the ‘rape-revenge film’ to the spotlight with The Last House on the Left.
The first time you see it, something will happen. Regardless whether or not you think Craven’s movie is excellent, mediocre, or not worth the time of day, you cannot deny there is most certainly a lasting impact. After you finish this one, there is a part of you that won’t ever feel the same. I can guarantee you that. Even as, what I’d like to think is, a hardened horror veteran, having seen literally 1,000+ horror movies, there is still consistently something truly disturbing about this one; I own it on Blu ray, though, it doesn’t get played much. Only when I’m looking for a true shock do I throw this on. You may never want to watch it again, but give it one go this Halloween. You may just lock your doors and forget all about the trick or treaters.

Snowtown (2011)
snowtown-1-posterFor my full review, click here.

You may notice the prevalence of movies based on true stories over the course of this list. And here’s another: based on The Snowtown Murders in Southern Australia, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown focuses mostly on the budding relationship between serial killer John Bunting and one of the sons of a woman he dated at the time of the killings.
A lot of reviews and comments on the internet have stated they find the movie boring, either it’s too slow all around or they feel as if nothing much spectacular happens over the entire course of the film. I just don’t get that. This is a deep character study, once more akin to the earlier Tony/Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and we not only step inside the perspective of a serial killer, we’re bound to the perspective of Jamie – the son of Bunting’s quasi-girlfriend at the time – who did commit horrific acts alongside Bunting in real life. Here, the character of Jamie is mostly seen as sympathetic, both being abused by his half-brother and manipulated by Bunting, and through him the audience is able to both understand and be horrified at Jamie’s new life. Bunting is played amazingly by Daniel Henshall in what is – as far as I know – his first film role specifically; the performance is subtle and extremely unnerving. The whole movie is very involving, if you can forgive it’s at times slow pace. In the end, you’ll be thankful if looking for a disturbing horror, because this is one that really left its mark on me. I’ve forced myself to watch it a couple times and there are scenes in Snowtown burned into my brain; things I don’t necessarily want to see or think about, yet I’m drawn to, as the dark side of reality truly comes out in Kurzel’s film.

Excision (2012)
excision-poster1Anyone know AnnaLynne McCord? I didn’t, until this wonderfully macabre and disturbing bit of cinema. When I found out who she was, what she normally looks like, I was immediately impressed with her performance in this film – not only does she do a great job in her role, McCord physically transforms into another person. To say anything much would ruin the surprise, the sick, disgusting joy you’ll eventually take out of seeing all the nasty visuals of Excision come alive before your eyes.
Basically, this is the story of a young girl’s becoming – she is turning into a woman, mentally, physically. Yet the bloody beginnings of womanhood translate into something entirely different for this high school girl. She fantasizes about crimson waves, organs, tortured and mutilated male bodies, and so much more.
I’d never seen this movie, yet picked up the Blu ray because I found the description of the film, as well as its cover art, extremely intriguing. There’s not only disturbing horror here, the screenplay is full of sass, wit, and oodles of black comedy. Plus, John Waters, Ray Wise, and Malcolm McDowell all show up, so how is that not awesome? Choose this if you want to shake up your expectations, just make sure your stomach isn’t weak because a few moments in this movie really pushed my limit and that rarely, if ever, happens. Still, I love it and could actually throw this nasty little shocker on any time.

Grimm Love a.k.a Rohtenburg (2006)
grimm_loveFor my full review, click here.

Back once more are we to the reality of killers, the depraved and sick, twisted individuals lurking out in the material world, not simply characters banished to the abstract realm of film and television. 2006’s Rohtenburg (English title: Grimm Love) examines, not using the real names, the case of Armin Meiwes who was arrested in 2002 after police discovered he found a man on the internet, a willing participant, to eat; together, they attempted first to eat his penis together, after which Meiwes killed his companion, quartered him up, ate pieces and stored the rest in his deep freeze.
There’s a romantic aspect to the main characters of the film, mirroring the real life pair – even within all the sickness, the cannibalism, each of them and their intensely depressed states, these two men connected on a level most of humanity will never know. Still, no matter their intentions, no matter their feelings after meeting one another, these two men were fatally damaged, eternally flawed. While there aren’t too many graphic bits here, it’s the emotionality and intensity of the plot which makes things disturbing, very real. If you’re able to handle such a wild ride into some of the more twisted aspects of the damaged human psyche, then I suggest Grimm Love as an interesting way to spend an October evening.

Audition (1999)/ Contracted (2013)
audition-cover2 I want to preface this double feature by saying evil comes in all shapes and sizes, all forms, all ways.
The first of two evils is Takashi Miike’s Audition; not surprisingly, Miike shows up twice on this list, first in Three… Extremes. This 1999 psychological-horror starts off with a recent widow looking to start dating again, so with the help of a friend in casting he arranges to interview (or ‘audition’) women to become his new partner. However, after meeting the supposed new woman of his dreams, the man comes to discover she is not whom she appears to be at first. Beginning with a vague romance, this Miike film typically devolves into pure madness, controlled, but madness nonetheless. With some of the most unbearable torture in film history, this is not simply “torture porn” (hate that label; read other reviews to find out why). Rather, Miike brings psychological fear to life – from the fear of meeting someone new, to the thought of losing someone you love and having to start life over again – as well as touches the deepest, most visceral nerve possible in each of us.
contracted-posterFrom the story of a female torturer, we move to Contracted, starting its vicious and horrific descent into psychological/body horror with a cold and ruthless act committed by – this time – a man. People criticized the marketing of this film because it says “one night stand”, when clearly the young female lead is actually date raped at the start. However, unless I’ve not heard all there is in terms of press, I don’t think it’s intended this is meant as a LITERAL one night stand; merely, the tagline says “Not your average one night stand” in a dark, acidic way. Because once you get into this movie, you’ll realize England is trying to make you uncomfortable. Not simply for uncomfortableness sake: there is legitimate horror here. There are bits of David Cronenberg in here, with all the attention paid to the lead character’s body deteriorating after obviously having contracted a virus from the man who date raped her. Even more than that, I think England makes a few highly poignant points about the male mind, in terms of both the man who raped the film’s lead and the man who pines for the lead’s attention. I won’t spoil anything else.
This double feature is bound to leave you shocked, in awe, and maybe not in any kind of good way. Miike’s Audition came before the golden age of online dating, so I imagine it might touch more nerves today than even when it came out 16 years ago. Moreover, Contracted is the Eric England rape metaphor film we never knew horror could produce (the sequel leaves much to be desired) and while it has things to say the most of its power comes from the cripplingly nauseating visuals. If you want a downright unsettling double feature for Halloween or leading up to the special night, this one may be your Holy Grail.

Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Sleepaway-Camp-Poster By now, most anyone who is into slasher horror movies, even in the slightest, has definitely heard of the 1983 classic Sleepaway Camp. Not just that, they’ve definitely heard of, or have seen, the outrageous and terrifying twist finale. I will not spoil anything in the way of its big gem.
What I will say is that this movie is one of those genuine ’80s-era slashers which is deserving of its cult following and infamy. It isn’t perfect, nowhere near that, however, I’m a firm believer this is one of those top notch slashers simply because I NEVER ONCE SAW THIS TWIST COMING! I mean, fuck M. Night even on his best twist endings, this one is the RULER OF ALL TWIST ENDINGS. Sorry, I love Memento, I love The MachinistThe Sixth Sense was a whopper in its day, and there are plenty others… but SleepawayfuckingCamp just rocks all of them out of the water. Say no more. Want a good dose of by-the-lake horror and a finale that will haunt your dreams? You’re welcome.

Antichrist (2009)
1.inddFor my full review, click here.

Lars Von Trier is a name you can say in a room and find a hundred different opinions about from just a couple people: some think he’s trash, others (mostly those who’ve only seen his recent two-part Nymphomaniac) say he’s a pornographer, then there are those of us who think he’s full of unbridled, unadulterated genius. Sure, he doesn’t always hit the mark, but what filmmaker ever has? Not a single one in history has made a full catalogue of perfect movies. But Trier, each and every time at bat, steps up and delivers something, at the very least, worthy of endless hours of conversation.
His 2009 film Antichrist is the study of many things: misogyny + misogyny’s affects on womankind, relationship dynamics, parenthood, as well as so much more thematic material. Containing two of the bravest performances I’ve seen in the past 10 years, both Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are captivating. Most of this movie touches on subject matter and themes many will find, in moments, almost reprehensible – from genital mutilation on the part of men and women, to the death of a child while his parents have sex. It isn’t all provocation and in your face, nasty horror, Von Trier touches at the heart of issues in all his films, whether people wish to recognize it or not. No matter what, Antichrist will pull you in, chew you up, then spit you out. Then lap you up and chew some more until all the grizzle of your brain is digested. You may never ever forget these 108 minutes, no matter how hard you scrub that grey matter.

Calvaire (2004)
calvaire If you weren’t sufficiently disturbed and left sleepless by Lars Von Trier, I present to you the final offering of my list: Fabrice Du Welz’s 2004 psychological horror-thriller, Calvaire.
The movie follows a struggling entertainer, a singer named Marc, whose latest and slightly sad tour takes him out into the backwoods of Belgium. When he breaks down, Marc comes across an inn through the woods, owned and operated by a Mr. Bartel, the seemingly friendly and welcoming host. After the first night, though, Marc discovers Bartel is not as friendly as once it seemed – the man first stalls on fixing Marc’s vehicle like he promised, then when he tears the battery out and other parts, it’s very clear Bartel is up to something more sinister. Trapped at the inn, Marc’s journey falls quickly into a darkness he could never have anticipated, not in a million years, and the stay at Bartel’s inn transforms into a fight for survival.
This is another one I purchased blind on DVD, not knowing anything more than the description and reading a couple reviews online, as well as based on the neat cover art. When I first saw this, I was completely floored and still, even when I’m in the right mood, Calvaire is full of uneasy moments. There’s a slow burn quality to this one and things don’t jump right out, often the pace is snail-like, yet if you can make it through and continue to watch up to the end of the finale. you’ll be well rewarded in terms of disturbed emotions. And after all, that’s why you came to this list, right? Welz’s shocking psycho-horror is full of chills, thrills, and unwanted uncomfortableness. Watch, but only if you dare.


Here ends another list for the Halloween season! I hope those of you who’ve come to find something fittingly full of shocks and super nasty will walk away satisfied. I’m sure many horror hounds have at least heard of all these, most likely they’ve also seen them, too. If you’ve got any of your own suggestions, at 4,100 films watched it may have been something I’ve already seen – regardless, I want to know what everyone else finds disturbing and what you’re watching to get the creepy October-Halloween vibe happening. Let me know in the comments what you think of the list, or if you have suggestions for other nasties I should include in my own viewing list this season.
Cheers!

Claire Denis Proves They’re All Bastards

Les Salauds (English title: Bastards). 2013. Dir. Claire Denis. Screenplay by Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau.
Starring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni. Wild Bunch.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2

les_salauds_xlgMarco (Lindon) is a sailor. A well-known one at that. He’s long cut off any ties with his family. After his brother-in-law commits suicide, Marco’s sister asks him to come help take care of the man who is responsible- a man named Edouard Laporte (who looks creepily like the last pope, the scary German one). So Marco gets an apartment in the city to start investigating things himself. Soon, he begins having a sexual relationship with Laporte’s wife (Mastroianni). Not long after this the real doozy events start piling up.

First is the shocking revelation Marco discovers from his niece’s doctor: her vagina is so badly damaged they need to do reconstructive surgery on it in the near future to have any chance at repairing it. I hesitate to say anything further. Shortly after, Marco thinks he has the truth. Unfortunately for him, and his niece, things are not at all what they seem. For those who’ve experienced the work of Claire Denis before now, Bastards pretty much sits right on par with her most disturbing, unnerving work. Though Trouble Every Day is my favourite film of hers personally, this one comes into the top few numbers.
Denis focuses many of her films around violence, however, it’s not often she indulges the imagery in full force. Much of the imagery she chooses to use, while disturbing, is usually subtle, subdued. Denis understands the less is sometimes more. Certainly, when dealing with rape, and particularly here in Bastards a really vile sort (if you can imagine categorizing such a thing by its level of heinousness), it’s easier to let the audience conjure up their own, often more personal, images of these things. That eats at the core of an audience more than anything, even if they don’t realize it themselves. Denis does this in Bastards.
les-salauds-07-08-2013-6-g In particular, one specific image dominates the entire film. It happens just before the 45-minute mark, as Marco is shown around what looks to be an apparent backwoods porn studio of sorts, which caters to people who like to ‘do their own thing’. First, we’re treated to some horribly candid shots – cumshots. Denis lingers on Marco as he eyes the filth in thie place. Then, on the floor, Marco sees something. Something which I, on the first viewing, had to rewind just to see. I couldn’t believe it. I knew, knowing Denis and her work, this would probably end up being disturbing, or shocking in some sort of way. But I was definitely surprised, and sufficiently disturbed, once I saw what Marco saw himself. I won’t reveal it – let’s just say, he leaves with more knowledge and more anger than when he’d walked in there. Also, it calls to mind the novel Sanctuary by William Faulkner.
There’s another moment when Marco’s niece runs away from the hospital that really gets me. It isn’t graphic so much as it’s there, present, in your face, while Denis shows it to us in shadowy darkness, as if to say “imagine what else you can’t see right now”. We get glimpses of the niece and her vicious injuries, but only in tiny snapshots, barely enough to really register. Maybe that’s a good thing. The story is not for everyone. It’s not graphic visually, but once you put the pieces together behind the plot you really bite your fist a bit. And not in a good way. It will make you cringe. I feel I’m desensitized, mainly that’s as far as horror imagery goes. When it comes to subject matter there are still things which really bother me. For instance, rape, and even worse the rape of a minor. There are tough bits in here. Then of course the finale really blows your top off. And not in a good way.
Bastards 1 The final shot is beautiful, dark, disturbing, and Denis sets it to a Tindersticks cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Put Your Love In Me” – this will haunt me to the end of my days. The song itself is haunting, but coupled with the images Denis shows while it plays, just long enough before the credits eventually cut in to roll, this is absolutely crushing. It is amazing. Yet a terribly powerful moment that really had an effect on me. The way it’s shot, the music, what’s actually happening in the scene – remarkable. Possibly my favourite part, although highly unsettling, in the entire film. Denis is a master of her craft.

If you’re not into disturbing subject matter, if you can’t enjoy a plot laden with both sex and some graphic themes centered on sexual violence, then I suggest you take a pass on Denis’ Bastards. This is a challenging film. There are even bits you might feel a little conflicted towards. Marco’s relationship with Laporte’s wife gets into some very deep and murky territory at points. The ending of the film got to me, I must say. For me, the film was wonderful.
I dig the way Denis approaches tough subject matter. I also admire her talent as a director. There are very beautiful shots here amongst all of the misery in Bastards. It isn’t all a pit of despair. Not only that, but Denis always manages to find a good performance. From the likes of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo to her regular work with Alex Descas (here as the doctor to Marco’s niece), there is always great work in her films. Here, Vincent Lindon really does a phenomenal job as the male lead. He is a bit mysterious, even dangerous. He’s got a bit of dirty side to him. Nowhere near as dirty as the people he investigates during his own little trip into the underworld, in search of whoever it was that hurt his niece. His performance really carries a film that could easily be dragged down by its intense and disturbing subject matter.
1173177_Bastards_directed_by_Claire_DenisAll in all I have to give this film a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a fantastic, yet grim, work by Claire Denis. She continues to make challenging films. Most of her work is not easy, and maybe not totally accessible. But when you sit through one of them and really absorb things, they get under your skin. Denis has caused many nights of wondering for me, particularly with her film Trouble Every Day, as I mentioned earlier being my favourite work of hers. Bastards is almost neck and neck with that one. Hard to choose between. Very different, but also both very amazing pieces of work. The only reason I don’t give Bastards a full 5 star rating is because I wish there was a little more SOMETHING to it. I’m not sure what that something is, but I just know there’s a tiny little bit of something, whatever it may be, missing from this film. Not that it detracts from the rest of it. I was just left wanting more at the end. Not in a way that excited me, but a small disappointment, as if I’d been waiting for one other thing to leap out at me. Regardless of that, I think Bastards is well worth watching. Not only is it challenging, it’s just a well-written and well-acted film. Denis’ films are all visually interesting, no matter what their subject. This is no exception to that rule. If you’re ready for something fairly dark and stormy some night, pick up a copy of Bastards, and you won’t regret it even if the story is tough to chew at times.

But one thing’s for certain – don’t count on the ending to cheer you up and band-aid those emotional cuts and bruises. It’ll only beat you up some more.